Yesterday we covered the hardware I chose for building my HTPC, which I’m using solely for watching and streaming video content from sources that are online as well as on my local network. After I got the hardware all put together I started to dive into the software, and I made some notes that may help anyone else who is trying to optimize the performance of their XBMC computer.
I should point out that the settings I’m going to cover are geared towards my particular hardware, but a lot of it is also independent of the hardware being used. This is also written assuming you generally know your way around Windows.
Update Settings in the BIOS:
When your machine is booting up press the appropriate key on the keyboard so that you will pull up your BIOS settings. Make the following changes:
- Set the SATA Mode to AHCI
Go to Advanced -> Storage Configuration -> SATA Mode and change the setting from IDE to AHCI. This will improve the performance of your SSD. Note that you must change this setting before installing Windows.
- Max Out the Integrated Video Graphics
To get the best video performance from XBMC you’ll want to ensure the video graphics are allowed to use as much memory as possible. In the case of my motherboard, the graphics are integrated and you’ll want to bump up the memory available (which pulls from the available RAM) in the BIOS. Go to Advanced -> North Bridge Configuration -> Share Memory and set it to the max which should be 512MB.
Install Windows 7 64-bit
I recommend using the 64-bit version of Windows 7. The problem is that you may not have a way to install the OS since it typically comes on a disk, but Microsoft puts out a tool that you can use to create a bootable Windows 7 installation using a USB drive. I highly recommend using this method unless you have a DVD drive on your system already.
Post-Windows Installation Steps for Optimal Performance
These are a few tips I recommend doing after you’ve completed the fresh install of Windows 7:
- Install Drivers from Manufacturer Site
Make sure you grab the appropriate drivers from the manufacturer of the actual component you’re trying to configure. For example, the motherboard manufacturer may have drivers for the network card, but I recommend trying to get more up-to-date drivers directly from the manufacturer of the network card.
- Install All Windows Updates
- Install Google Chrome and Make Incognito Mode Default
If you right-click on the Google Chrome shortcut you can add “ –incognito” onto the end of the shortcut link. That means it will startup in the Incognito mode every time you start the browser. This is beneficial because you don’t need to worry about browser caches using up disk space. Of course this may not be desirable if you plan on using this as your day-to-day machine.
- Disable Unnecessary Services
I try to trim down the services to make sure almost all of the CPU will always be available to XBMC. These are the services that I normally disable:
- Disk Defragmenter
- Windows Defender (this, of course, has security implications by turning this off)
- Windows Media Player Network Sharing Service
- Windows Search
- Disable Unnecessary Visual Effects
Go to the Control Panel -> System -> Performance Options -> Visual Effects, and choose the Adjust for best performance option.
- Disable Hibernation
To save disk space you can turn off the hibernation feature if you don’t plan on using it. This can quickly be done by opening an elevated command prompt (Right-click on the CMD shortcut) and type powercfg -h off
- Set Up Automatic Login
You can follow this guide we previously wrote outlining how to configure Windows to automatically login to your machine without using any third-party software.
Basic XBMC Setup
In some upcoming articles we are going to go through some of the XBMC customization and configuration options, but these are a couple of basic things we wanted to cover in here:
- Install the latest version of XBMC
- Copy Over Existing Configuration Files (if applicable)
If you’ve already installed and configured XBMC on a similar machine you can copy over the configuration files to prevent having to reconfigure everything:
- Copy the %appdata%\XBMC\userdata over from another install
- Copy the %appdata%\XBMC\addons over from another install
- Set XBMC to Start at Boot
Copy the XBMC shortcut to the Startup folder so that it will automatically start with Windows.
- Share the XBMC Profile Folder
Share the %appdata%\XBMC in Windows so that you can quickly access the profile folder from another computer on your network. This will make future configuration changes from a remote machine a lot easier.
CyberNet’s XBMC Guides:
- XBMC: Introduction to Our Upcoming Guides
Our introduction provides some of the deciding factors for switching from Windows Media Center to XBMC.
- XBMC: Build Your Own HTPC
Our extensive guide on the hardware we chose for our home theater PCs (HTPCs), the cost, and some tips on choosing the hardware for your own HTPC.
- XBMC: Prepare and Optimize Windows 7
A helpful list of tips to optimize the performance of Windows 7 so that the system is able to offer as many resources to XBMC as it can.
- XBMC: IR Receiver and Remote (Harmony, Xbox 360, and More)
If you want your HTPC to operate like a set-top box you’ll definitely want to get a remote control configured, and for me this was a critical step so that I wouldn’t have to be concerned about less tech-savvy users trying to use my TV.
- XBMC: Share and Sync Media/Settings Between Multiple XBMC Installs
Configuring XBMC to share settings between multiple instances means you’ll be able to stop a show in one room, and seamlessly pick up where you left off in another room.
- XBMC: Fit the Picture to Your TV with Overscan
If XBMC doesn’t fit your TV screen perfectly there are a couple of steps you can take to get it just right.
- XBMC: Installing Skins
How to tweak the appearance of XBMC so that it looks the way you want it to.
- XBMC: Custom Home Screen Menu Backgrounds
Make the backgrounds of your chosen skin/theme a little more interesting by having it flip through artwork from your favorite TV shows and movies.
- XBMC: Dynamic Weather Backgrounds
If you’re using the Aeon MQ 3 theme you can have it use dynamic wallpapers that change based on the time of day and current weather conditions.
- XBMC: SMB on Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion)
I use a Mac to serve up files to my XBMC instances running on Windows, and so my preferred protocol for sharing files is SMB. This guide explains how you can get a XBMC-compatible version of SMB running on Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.
- XBMC: Adding Media Sources
Learn how to add your media to XBMC and turn on the appropriate content scrapers.
- XBMC: Troubleshoot Buffering Issues
Trying to troubleshoot buffer issues in XBMC can be quite a pain, and so I lay out some of the most common culprits.
- XBMC: Test Your HTPC with High Bitrate Sample Videos
Want to see how well your HTPC performs? Throw some of these high bitrate 1080p sample videos at it.
- XBMC: More Advanced Settings
Configure some of the settings that you won’t find anywhere in the GUI.
- XBMC: Stream Hulu, Food Network, and More
Thanks to add-ons you can stream videos from some of your favorite sources including Hulu, Food Network, HGTV, TWiT, and more.
- XBMC: AirPlay on Windows
Send videos from your iOS device to any XBMC instance with very little configuration.
- XBMC: Web Interface and Chrome Extension
As long as you are on the same network as your XBMC box you can control it from any browser using the built-in web interface, or you can install a Chrome extension to make it even easier.
- XBMC: iPhone and iPad Remote
If you own an iPhone or iPad you can enjoy one of the best XBMC remote control experiences I’ve seen, and it will only cost you a few bucks.
- XBMC: A List of Our Guides, Plus Helpful Wiki and Forum Posts
A recap of all the guides we’ve written as well as useful wiki and forum post from the official XBMC.org site.
- XBMC: Free and Official iOS Remote for XBMC Released
This is the free and official XBMC remote control iOS app (optimized for both the iPhone and iPad). It will let you easily control all of the XBMC instances in your house as long as they are all on the same network.
- XBMC: Running XBMC on Startup in Windows 8
Learn how you can make XBMC start automatically when Windows 8 boots.
- XBMC: Send YouTube Videos From Chrome to XBMC
Send YouTube videos from your PC to any XBMC instance in a single click.
- XBMC: Aeon MQ 4 Skin
If you’re looking for one of the best and most popular XBMC skins the Aeon MQ 4 is a great choice.
- XBMC: Android Widget Remote Control
Control multiple instances of XBMC without ever having to open an app on your Android device!